Interview: Rufus Jones
THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN IN NOVEMBER 2011 FOR THE VELVET ONION MONGRELS TAKEOVER.
Hi Rufus, welcome to TVO. Now… Mongrels is back! What can we expect from series two?
Series 2? Well, I can’t say too much as the BBC likes to keep Mongrels under wraps. If I say the wrong thing, the director general will swoop through my window like a Pre Crime Unit from Minority Report. But let’s just say Series 2 explores our heroes’ relationships a little deeper. There’s a wedding, multigenerational sex and a tender exploration of bisexuality. I may have said too much.
What were you most proud of about series one, and was there anything about the first series you felt has been improved upon a second time around?
Well, I think we were all really proud of Series 1. Proud to be involved with the scripts, really, because chief writer Jon Brown is a genius and his writing team are terrific. Also, the way Andy Heath and his amazing puppeteering team gave life to our voices – we lay down the voices first and then the puppeteers work to that. This second series, the voice cast and the puppeteers know each other a little better, so the characters are just so much more rounded.
You learn so much from a first series as ambitious as Mongrels – it’s been a long time since a puppet show on this scale has been attempted on TV. The learning curve is huge across the board. There are also a couple of moments of pathos for Nelson which, personally, I found really interesting. It’ll be great if we can pluck the audience’s heartstrings, if only for a moment. Then Vince will say **** or something and the show will just carry on.
As a voice-over artist on the show, do you have lots of chances to develop readings of the lines and work with your co-stars and the writers to hone things?
Yeah, in the voice sessions we are all in the same room together, unlike other Voiceover work where sometimes you record your character solo. And that’s really the only way to make it come alive – you can time lines in real time, improvise and find different readings as you go along. Director Adam Miller has always encouraged us to explore different readings. We also record it in possibly Soho’s smallest room so it’s very intimate.
How often do you get to visit the set? Can changes still be made to your contributions on filming days? If you come up with a perfect ad-lib for example?
We visited the set a couple of times, but only really to cuddle the puppets and gaze in awe at the incredible sets. Once you lay down the voice track, that’s kind of it. Although the puppeteers may actually find a physical action that requires a different vocal delivery – you can then change that in what’s called ADR (dubbing) after the filming. There’s quite a lot of ADR on this show just because of the complexity of the shoot.
Some of the humour in the show is quite close to the bone. Has there ever been a point where you’ve felt a joke has crossed the line?
Jokes crossing the line? There were one or two cutaways in the first series that were in spectacularly poor taste. But then quite a lot of people like spectacular poor taste, including me. Comedy only offends me if it isn’t funny – I don’t look to it to reflect my morality. And if anyone out there does, well, Mongrels probably isn’t for them. Interestingly, for a show with close to the bone humour, our audience appears to have genuinely become incredibly fond of the characters. And that’s the ultimate aim.
You’ve claimed that Nelson appeals to “the young camp gay man” in you. Is there an alternate you in another dimension that’s Nelson personified?
Oddly enough, Nelson came out of a character I do on the London comedy circuit. It’s part of a double act with Alex Kirk called’ No Son Of Mine’, which we’re developing for TV at the moment with a production company. Alex plays my father. I’m a camp, emotionally fragile actor. Nelson’s delivery grew out of that to some extent.
Nelson’s certainly given you an excuse to hone your singing voice. Are they fun to create?
The songs are incredible. Richie Webb and Adam Miller put them together. They’re great fun to tackle – I’m not really a singer so we’ve developed a Rex Harrison speaky-singy way for Nelson to approach his numbers. Lily Allen does something incredibly similar. And it allowed me to sing at the Royal Albert Hall earlier this year as part of the Comedy Prom, which was a hugely unexpected thrill.
Away from Mongrels, you’ve successfully mixed comedy with drama. Are there particular projects you’re fond of?
Well, we shot Holy Flying Circus over the Summer, which is a BBC4 comedy drama about Monty Python and the reaction to Life Of Brian which aired last month. I played Terry Jones in it, and all of us involved are hugely proud of it, I think. It’s one of the funniest scripts I’ve ever been involved with and has moments of pathos that come out of the blue. It’s written by the brilliant Tony Roche, and, to draw a tenuous link between Mongrels and HFC, both he and Mongrels writer Jon Brown wrote episodes of Fresh Meat, currently on Channel 4. I think both Jon and Tony are two of funniest comedy writers in Britain today.
You’ve come from a long line of Cambridge Footlights members. Do you feel the need to ‘live up’ to what has come before?
I didn’t really do too much Footlights to be honest. I was more of a broody actor. But I did the Footlights panto one year where I was the evil queen, David Mitchell the court jester and Matt Holness an SAS soldier. Lucy Montgomery was in it too. That was hard enough to live up to at the time!
Were Monty Python an influence on you, and has it been strange working with them on Holy Flying Circus?
Yes, Python was an inevitable influence I guess. They can’t not be, really, it’s so ingrained in our culture. It was a little nervy taking the subject on at first, but as I mentioned, the script is so fantastic you end up focussing on that rather than the pressure of ‘getting’ these comedy heroes. It really isn’t a conventional biopic. It’ll wrongfoot quite a few people, I suspect.
What else is coming up for you soon?
Coming up? I’m filming Lapland at the moment, which is a BBC1 comedy drama with Sue Johnston and a host of brilliant actors for Christmas day.
We’re looking forward to it! Will you return for more Mongrels if given the chance?
Mongrels series 3? Well, I hope it happens, and if it does, I’m there.
Finally, a suggestion – given the show’s popularity, do you think a live tour could work? It’d be a work-out for all involved, we imagine, but we’re putting it out there!
Yes, a live tour. There have been murmurs. I think the Powers That Be will see how the second series fares and take it from there. We did the Comedy Prom at the Royal Albert Hall partly to see how the show looked ‘live’, and it worked rather well. You may just have something there…
Rufus Jones: thank you.